Whilst there is never any shortage of applicants for even the most poorly paid or unpleasant of jobs, retaining good employees for the long term can be much more of a challenge.
Achieving a good level of employee retention begins with the recruitment process itself, and if you’re looking for staff in the wrong places or in the wrong ways, your chances of finding reliable team members seeking a long-term position are much lower.
Low levels of employee retention are sometimes less of an issue for SMEs and local businesses than they are for larger companies due to the more personal nature of the employer/employee relationship, but poor staff retention levels can be a problem for businesses of all sizes (looking to start your own company? Check out our guide on how to become self employed).
On the flip side, there are also sometimes additional challenges faced by SMEs that are not replicated in larger organisations when it comes to being able to find and attract the right type of staff, due to a potential inability to compete on pay and conditions, and in other areas too.
In this article I will share some tips and advice on how SMEs can set up their recruitment funnels to attract conscientious, committed staff that are in it for the long haul.
Why incentivising employee retention starts with the recruitment process
Incentivising employee retention is an ongoing process that should begin from the new hire’s first day with you, but it all starts with the recruitment process itself. Even a new hire that was genuinely looking for long-term work won’t remain in a job if things aren’t right, but if your new hire is only looking for short term or temporary work to begin with, they’ve already got one eye on the door before they even walk through it to begin work with you.
Based on research undertaken by XpertHR in 2016, one in seven employees resign from their roles each year, and when it comes to new starters, 10% fail to complete their first year within a new role.
Different industries also often have quite variable average employee retention rates too, and roles within distribution, service industries and the hospitality sector tend to have a higher average level of staff turnover than many others. However, good long-term positions are always in genuine demand among job seekers, and often hard to come by.
In order to give yourself the best possible chances of finding staff whose needs match your own and to avoid going through a continual cycle of investing in staff that are apt to leave just as they begin to become really valuable to you, your recruitment process needs to be set up to enable this.
This encompasses everything from where you look for staff, how you word your job adverts, how you narrow down your applicant pools, and how you assess prospective hires at the interview stage too.
Where to look for staff and how to set up your recruitment process
Getting your vacant role seen by people who are looking for long term work and incentivising them to apply for it is the first stage in increasing your rate of employee retention, and so your recruitment funnels need to be set up to enable this from the outset.
Most vacant roles today receive a huge number of applications, but this does not always make finding the right team member for your role any easier, and may quite possibly make it harder.
Receiving hundreds of applicants for one role might at a glance appear to give you plenty of options and an almost guaranteed chance of finding the right person, but many (or in some cases, most or even all) of those applicants will be poorly suited to the position, or obviously unqualified or otherwise clearly unable to perform it.
To make the recruitment process easier, faster and more cost effective, pay some mind to where and how you look for staff, and how appropriate your recruitment protocols are for your business niche.
Sending details of a vacancy to the job centre or a large, generic recruitment portal or agency is rarely the best way to find and catch the eye of appropriately skilled or motivated workers for your specific niche, so you may need to apply some lateral thinking to determine the best approach. Specialist recruitment agencies or job sites for your niche are a better choice than generic employment agencies, but be very clear about your requirements in order to ensure that the applicants that are sent your way are the right sort.
Think about the role you are offering, what is involved in it and what you need from your successful applicant – but also, think about the type of applicants that want and would suit a role like yours too, and where they are likely to look for it.
Advertising a vacancy within your own store or website is likely to attract people who know it, visit it or otherwise are already familiar with it, and who will have had the chance to ask themselves “do I like this place? Would I be happy working here?” before they need to take the time to submit an application.
Letting your existing team members and possibly, customers know that you are hiring can also be a great approach, as the people that shop with you and more so, already work with you have a good idea of your workplace culture and requirements. This means they might think of someone who might be a good fit for it, or who might be interested in it.
Word of mouth is always a good way to find staff, and often, this is a highly successful way to find new team members that will stick around for the long term.
Additionally, most local businesses have people drop in from time to time enquiring about work on spec, or seeking to drop off a CV or application for future consideration. Inviting and accepting enquiries in this way is always a sound move, as those applicants have already demonstrated a proactive interest in working with you, and may well have done a lot of research into your company and whether or not it would be a good fit for them first.
Keeping a file of prospective applicants and people seeking work to hand can often enable you to shortcut a longer, more challenging recruitment process, and may give you a better chance of finding someone who is willing to wait for the right role – and stay in it when they find it.
Composing job adverts to incentivise employee retention
Regardless of where you look for staff, how you compose and incentivise your advert and the working role itself is vital to attracting appropriate applicants.
Make it easy for prospective applicants to see things like what the role involves, the skills required of it and the type of person you are looking for, and be sure to include clear information on the sort of hours you expect from your new employee, how they will be spread over the course of the week or month, and vitally, roughly how much you are willing to pay.
The type of shift patterns or hours you offer can help to provide as much direction on where to advertise roles as the type of skills involved in them too. For instance, if you need help during school hours, advertising in places where parents might look for work can help to ensure that your roles are seen by the type of people who can perform the hours you need covered, and will value a job that provides them enough to stay in it.
Finally, pay some mind to the type of language and style you use when composing your adverts, to ensure that your approach doesn’t inadvertently discourage potentially viable applicants from considering your position in the first place.
Narrowing down your applicants to those looking for long-term positions
Most job applicants today are savvy enough to avoid self-excluding themselves from positions they apply for by letting it be known that they’re only seeking a temporary stop-gap (other than of course when applying for temp roles) or placeholder while they look for something better, and so identifying employees seeking a secure role in the right position is not always simple.
This means that you need to be able to harness the type of intuition that will allow you to filter out applicants who don’t plan to stick around, something that most professional recruiters develop an eye for very quickly.
CVs or employment histories that show a pattern of many back-to-back periods of short-term employment that are not suitably explained or due to the temporary nature of the roles themselves, people who appear to uproot and change areas regularly, and those that indicate that the applicant’s true areas of interest lie elsewhere should all be considered carefully.
Be careful not to inadvertently exclude applicants that are looking to put down roots in the local area, change careers, or even that appear to be overqualified whilst you’re culling applicants with a view to increasing employee retention – but do be prepared to ask questions about the job seeker’s intentions and future goals if you decide to interview them later on.
Interviewing applicants and reading between the lines
Not everyone performs at their best in an interview situation, and many job seekers spend a significant amount of time and effort practicing for in-person meetings in order to make a good first impression and help to counteract nerves.
Take into account the fact that many applicants find interviews stressful or challenging and so, may not give the best account of themselves in such a highly-loaded situation. Do what you can to be welcoming, friendly and easy to talk to, so that your candidate begins to relax a little and feels free to be themselves.
There needs to be a certain level of formality and professionalism within the interview process itself, and you should ensure that you don’t say anything or ask your applicant anything that might be considered discriminatory in an attempt to find out their plans.
Consider showing applicants around your business and explaining the basics of the role to them and what is involved before the interview itself, to give the applicant a chance to see themselves in the role, think about whether they would like it and be capable of it, and to give them opportunities to ask questions about it that might not otherwise arise until they began work.
Taking this approach also helps to give you a little while to get a feel for your candidate and allow them to relax around you, which will pay off during their interview itself in terms of how freely they are likely to speak to you, and the level of honesty they might display when they feel comfortable with you.
A prospective employee who realises almost immediately that they don’t want the job or wouldn’t want the job forever still probably won’t tell you this outright, but the level of interest they do show at interview and the overall impression that they convey will often give this away.
Similarly, if some of your applicants that made it through to interview are only there as a box-checking exercise to fulfil their responsibility to look for work or lose benefits, this will usually become self-evident early on too.
If you need an employee who will get started quickly and who will be ready to hit the ground running to pick up the slack left by a recently departed team member, it is very easy to become quite myopic about finding the perfect candidate who has all of the necessary skills and qualifications from the outset.
However, people who are enthusiastic about the role and committed to developing the skills they need to perform it even if their qualifications on paper don’t quite hit the mark are often even more valuable in the long term, as they are willing to work hard to secure and fulfil their position, and more likely to recognise and appreciate the investment you make in helping them to do it.
When you do find the right person it is usually a good idea to take a couple of days to consider things and allow yourself some time to cool off before you make them an offer, even if you are keen to hire them immediately so they don’t get picked off by another recruiter.
This is not only in order to give yourself time to ensure you’ve made the right choice, but also to allow the applicant to mull things over and if relevant, change their mind if they want to. If you offer someone a job immediately at the end of their interview, the applicant will almost certainly accept it even if they already have one eye on the door, which can of course be hugely inconvenient.
Receiving acceptance of an offered job, planning around this, stopping or suspending recruitment and scheduling in the newcomer’s hours, only to find out a couple of days before they start (or worse, on the day when they simply don’t turn up) is not only hugely frustrating but also costly and time consuming, something that you will of course be keen to avoid.
Consider asking your prospective new hire or shortlisted applicants to pop back in or take a call from you just to follow up on a few things or have a chat prior to making them an offer, as this can help to ensure that your final selection really is as committed as they first seemed to be, and also helps to invest them in wanting the position more as well.
Best practices for SMEs seeking to recruit long-term staff
- Think about where and how you advertise vacant roles with a view to attracting people who are already actively seeking a long-term position.
- Take care over how you formulate the contents of your job adverts themselves, to ensure that they attract attention, provide all of the necessary information to secure qualified applications, and use the appropriate tone and language style for the type of people you wish to recruit.
- Learn how to read between the lines when it comes to applications to get a better feel for what your applicants are looking for, and apply this within the interview process to weed out applicants that are really only looking for a temporary stop-gap.
- Try to ensure that your interview process puts applicants at ease, gives them the chance to get a feel for the role, and allows them the freedom to ask questions and speak freely about their own aims and goals.
- Remember too that incentivising employee retention doesn’t stop when you have found a new team member, and you need to work proactively to engage your team and enhance their working roles on an ongoing basis once they begin work with you.